SARASOTA—With just a week remaining in a stress-free spring training for the Orioles, let’s take a look at some of the biggest surprises in camp.
Heston Kjerstad No one knew what to expect of Kjerstad, the overall No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft who has yet to play a full professional season.
Kjerstad has gone 14-for-36 (.389) with a 1.254 OPS, four home runs and eight RBIs.
His power has been jaw-dropping, and he hit two long home runs, one against Atlanta at North Port a week ago and another on Sunday in Sarasota.
His outfield play has drawn praise, too.
Kjerstad’s stay in camp has probably been extended because centerfielder Cedric Mullins and rightfielder Anthony Santander have been away at the World Baseball Classic.
At the beginning of spring training, it seemed that Kjerstad would begin 2023 with Double-A Bowie and had an outside chance of making his major league debut late in the season. Now, a major league debut seems much more likely.
Franchy Cordero When the Orioles signed Cordero to a minor league contract during the Winter Meetings last December, it seemed surprising. After an up-and-down season with the Boston Red Sox, Cordero decided to come to a team with plenty of young outfielders, and his path to first base was blocked by Ryan Mountcastle.
Cordero turned out to be one of four left-handed hitting first basemen who was added. Lewin Díaz, Josh Lester and Ryan O’Hearn are the others, and all have played well, but Cordero, who has also played the outfied, has been the most impressive.
He’s hitting .515 (17-for-33) with two home runs, nine RBIs and a 1.394 OPS, and might be forcing the Orioles to make a tough choice.
Do they go with Cordero or one of the others as the final position player? Or has Terrin Vavra, who has played well and can play second, third and the corner outfield spots, done enough to earn a spot.
Josh Lester Lester seemed an afterthought when, like Cordero, he was signed during the Winter Meetings to a minor league contract.
Lester has just five major league at-bats. Cordero has six years, and O’Hearn has five years.
He’s hitting well (13-for-39 .333 with a home run and nine RBIs), but the competition is stiff.
Lester’s spring has left a good impression should the Orioles need a left-handed hitting corner infielder during the season.
Keegan Akin He spent most of last season with the Orioles before a second-half slump forced the team to send him to Triple-A Norfolk at the end of the season.
With strong returning relievers, Akin’s chances to start the season with the Orioles weren’t secure. His 2023 spring has made his return likely. Manager Brandon Hyde has said that Akin is throwing as well as anyone in camp, and in six scoreless innings, Akin has allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out seven.
Hyde would like a second left-hander besides Cionel Pérez, and Akin has earned that spot.
Mike Baumann Baumann was a fringe candidate to make the team as a starter, but after he allowed six runs in two-plus innings against Toronto on March 11th, the Orioles decided to try him as a short reliever.
Baumann has pitched two hitless innings since then, the most recent on Sunday, and while it’s not likely that he’ll begin the season with the Orioles, he could help the team later in the season as a short reliever if he pitches well at Triple-A Norfolk.
Andrew Politi In most years, the Rule 5 right-hander’s spring training performance would be enough to have earned a roster spot, but the Orioles’ bullpen looks deep, especially if two long men are kept.
Politi, who’s scheduled for an appearance on Monday against Philadelphia in Clearwater, has pitched well in five appearances (no runs, three hits, five strikeouts and no walks in five innings) and poorly in one, (a pair of two-run home runs on three hits in 2/3 innings against the Phillies on March 7th).
In order for Politi to make the team, another more experienced reliever (Joey Krehbiel, Spenser Watkins or Bruce Zimmermann) may not.